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Monday, May 23, 2016

May 22, 2016

 Gospel: John 16:12-15 
1st Reading: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
2nd Reading: Romans 5:1-5

Here we are on Holy Trinity Sunday, celebrating several ways we try to put something into words that cannot be described, God. The Bible is full of words and phrases and titles to describe God—lets start with King of Kings. What are some others that come to mind? (Prince of Peace, Yahweh, the Lamb, Savior, Creator, the still small voice). But any time we try describe the indescribable, we get into trouble, because we leave something out. We never quite cover it.

I've been struggling talking about God and Jesus to Sterling. Yes, they are two members of the Trinity. We worship one God, in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity is like the three leaves of the shamrock, like the layers of an onion, the reason I am one person, but I am also a mother, a pastor, and friend. We pray in Jesus' name. We read the stories about Jesus. Jesus prays to the Father. If they are one, why does he pray to the Father? It gets so confusing sometimes.

The word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible. One of the phrases that comes from early Lutheranism that we often claim for ourselves is “Solo Scriptura” or “Scripture alone.” We might be missing the mark if we celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday and say that we on only scripture. But we're trying to understand what the Bible is telling us about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and the functions of the parts. We're coming up with a term, not found in the Bible, to describe the One God we believe in. The word “Trinity” comes from the very early church—about 180 AD, so it isn't that awfully new. That writer was describing something he did find in directly in scripture, The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

I could bore you with a long sermon of arguments and history about the Trinity, but as I've said, words fall short. Instead I am going to share with you my experience of the Trinity this week.

I've been feeling woefully inadequate, stressed and grouchy. My child is testing the limits. For over four years he's been coming to work with me. Many of you have been gracious, helping to watch him while I visited people in the hospital, or putting up with some interruptions from him during meetings. It has come to the point that my work was starting to suffer. Earlier this week I looked into putting him into a co-op preschool where the parents volunteer hours so there is little or no cost, but the hours were not the best for us. We'd have to drive up to NE Portland and back twice on those days, for drop off and pick up. I have been in tears, lay awake sleepless, anything but asking for help, actually.

And I've run into a couple of people this week who were also feeling woefully inadequate, stressed, and grouchy. One made a financial mistake and felt really stupid and sick about it. She had to admit it to some family members and feel awkward. The other couldn't keep her calendar straight and missed an important appointment and just feels like there's no way she'll ever get organized. And these two people made me feel so much better to be imperfect and stressed and flawed! I wasn't glad they were miserable, but I could see myself so much more clearly. We all make mistakes. We make the same mistakes over and over again. We have a lot to work on!

What does this have to do with the Trinity? First, that God is the only one who is perfect and complete, through and through. I don't need to be, because no one else is but God, and God is the one who made me good, who helps me learn from my mistakes, and felt what it is like to be limited by a human body and sometimes frustrated with those limits, and who accepts me for who I am while still having hopes that I can learn and grow from my shortcomings. I can look to God who is complete, and not have to be everything and do everything.

Secondly, God has always found perfection in relationship. God is Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These three persons are perfect in unity. God is relational. At the beginning of Creation, as we hear in Proverbs, the Creator was forming the earth and sky and water and mountains and animals and people. But not the Creator alone. Wisdom, also known as Sophia and Holy Spirit, was there at the beginning, ordering all the creation into interrelated parts. Spirit is breath, giving life to all creatures. The Spirit sets the limits of each part of creation so that no one part impedes on another. 

Let me take a moment and say that even humans were assigned a limit at the creation which were meant to guide us and preserve a place for us among creation. One of those limits are that we are stewards of creation, responsible to see that creation flourishes. We have pushed those limits, and at times put ourselves in the place of God, losing track of our proper place and destroying what God has made. By transgressing that limit, we have sinned against God and against other living things, and endangered humankind. If we destroy this world, where will we live? This pollution we've created already causes the premature death of too many people. We are destroying ourselves. We are uncreating what God has created. How do we live within life-giving limits? Do we even value the limits that the Spirit gives us as a gift?

Those limits are where our freedom and growth impede the freedom and growth of others of God's Creation. When we do that we deny our relationship and interrelatedness with other creatures. God the Holy Trinity is life-giving relationship-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to one another and with us and all Creation. To know our limit and honor it, is to honor relationships and this life God gives not just us but all creatures.

We know that not just the Creator but also the Holy Spirit, Holy Wisdom is present at creation and we know that Jesus is present at creation. God, the Trinity, is present at Creation. If you remember the beginning of the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him....What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” That word that was in the beginning was Jesus, “And the word became flesh and lived among us...full of grace and truth.” God the Creator spoke the word Jesus, and Holy Spirit Wisdom ordered and arranged that word and gave it life. God the Creator made all Creation. Jesus came to redeem all Creation and bring us back to God when we got lost. And the Holy Spirit sustains all creation, keeps that life force constantly flowing, empowering us for ministry.

This week my relief finally came—Sterling's preschool can take him two more days a week at a very affordable price. Our Triune, relational God, comes to us in relationships of caring and sharing. Because of the relationship and connectedness of my extended community, Trinity relatedness is getting me through. I can't believe the weight that has been lifted. How quickly we can go from helpless to rejoicing, from broken and grouchy, to hopeful and connected! 

Now I must not waste this gift that I have received. I must use it to give glory to God. I am thankful to Sterling's preschool and teachers. I am thankful for this community of faith that has stepped in and cared for him often. I am thankful for a neighborhood in which people have some time and energy to share. I am thankful to God for all these gifts. And I hope I've learned my lesson—that I have to let people help me, I have to tell my stories of not being enough, of discouragement, of helplessness, because our wounds are places we can connect with each other, where we are real and authentic, we can feel each other's pain and be strengthened by relationship. When we admit our suffering and pain, we admit the need for others and our lack of power and control, and others can relate to us. In community, God comes to us, bringing the help we have hesitated to call out for because we've been too proud. 

Boast in our suffering—probably not. Admit weakness and vulnerability—I'll work on that. And because of relationship with God and people around me and God's good Creation, I won't stay in suffering, but I'll find hope in connection, hope in the strength of Trinity, hope in relationship.

The woman who made the mistake, found out she wasn't as far off as she feared and in reaching out to her brother, found kindness and understanding. The woman who couldn't get her schedule together, still can't get her schedule together, but she's got our phone number and she knows our expectations of her, our limits, as well as our forgiving hearts, ready to try again.

We also should keep in mind those who aren't as well connected, who don't have the relationship of community and the help that many of us have the privilege to enjoy. Many times we work on building relationships with those who have something we want or who are more powerful than we are, to try to lift ourselves up in the world. But think of Christ. He did just the opposite. He was building relationships with those nobody else would acknowledge. He was building a lifeline to them. As the body of Christ in the world, now we get to live the Holy Trinity way, relationally with all those around us, especially keeping in mind those who Christ would be sure to connect with, the poor and hurting, those who are alone. That is what will build the Kingdom of God, one connection and relationship at a time. We have the privilege of introducing the Holy Trinity to those we meet and connect with.

Monday, May 16, 2016

May 15, 2016

Gospel: John 14:8-17, 25-27 
1st Reading: Acts 2:1-21
2nd Reading: Romans 8:14-17

Over the past year or so I've had the chance to watch some of my favorite childhood films as we share them with our four year old, so I couldn't help but think of Mary Poppins when I thought of the winds of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel and the winds of change blowing the nannies in and out. In the scriptures for today, God is sending the Holy Spirit, and the wind of God's Spirit are really blowing. Jesus has ascended, but he has assured the disciples that they will still have God's power with them, the Holy Spirit. He's taught them all he knows. He's reassured them. He hands them the car keys and he ascends. And here they stand in the book of Acts, having yet another meeting about what to do next, uncertain and afraid. And that's when the sound of a violent wind comes rushing in.

For the Banks children, too, the winds of change are coming. They've run off all the other nannies. Their home is disconnected. Their city is divided. But they want to be loved and they want to be mischievous, creative children. Their kite lays limp on the pavement. Their parents are arguing. They feel all alone, until the wind starts blowing.

I'm not going to say that Mary Poppins is a Christ figure—not really, but here are some gifts she has that other nannies do not. She has the gift of imagination and creativity—she gets the children living in worlds of fantasy and delight. She gets Mr. Banks thinking in new ways about his job at the bank and about his family and what is possible. Secondly, Mary Poppins brings people together—different age groups, different social strata, different political beliefs. For example, she brings the children to have compassion on the poor woman who feeds the bird in the town square, she brings the children into the world of the chimney sweeps, and she brings the whole Banks family together to understand one another and help each other. Finally, Mary Poppins empowers people. She doesn't try to get everyone to rely on her. She teaches them to do for themselves and with one another. The children learn to clean their room. Mr. Banks learns to imagine and play with his children. So when the winds change and Mary Poppins has to go, the family is ready to be together in a new way. They may not even need a nanny from here on out.

Jesus, too, has the gift of creativity and imagination. He works to cultivate it in his disciples in the form of parables. He gets them thinking in new ways by his stories. He makes his lessons non-threatening, and people are able to digest them more easily, because they are stories. But they also reveal important truths about us and bring about self-awareness, so that we can decide whether that is the person I want to be or not. He gets his disciples thinking in new ways by giving them new experiences, taking them places they've never been before and training them to do what they never thought would be possible, healing and casting out evil spirits.

Jesus brings people together. He goes everywhere you don't expect him to be. Jesus shows up in graveyards, at the side of a divorced woman, at a preschool, waterskiing, cleaning fish, in the kitchen, lifting the corpse out of the coffin—only the person is alive again! Jesus is present with every kind of person. His disciples that are following him around are baffled. They are trying to go with him and learn from him, but they keep showing up where they don't belong. They feel awkward. They meet people they don't like. They meet people they don't know how to relate to. But Jesus tries to show them how to simply be kind and loving and learn from those they meet.

Finally, Jesus empowers people. He gives people the power to build relationships and cross borders and speak up for themselves and give up what they don't need that is standing in the way of new life for all. So when Jesus ascends to heaven, he doesn't leave them alone and abandoned, but prepared to do ministry, prepared to be a family together, powerful and connected.

So why are they all just standing there looking at one another, once he's gone? They're scared, of course. They are confused. Where to start? How to decide?

So now comes this rush of violent wind, all this noise and drama, all these flames landing on each one of them, and then all these Jews rush in from all different parts of the world, and for a moment, we don't really know how long, they all understand each other. Everything comes together. Everything makes sense. They all hear in their native language. Their hearts all know the same reality. Now it is time to become a church of action. 

The Holy Spirit is the presence of God. The Holy Spirit is the power of God. The Holy Spirit scares some Lutherans. It was probably us that accused some people of being maybe a little drunk and we probably did that because we were scared. I don't know about you, but I like being in control. I like knowing what is going to happen, but the Holy Spirit is unpredictable. I've been in at least two situations where people were speaking in tongues, and all I could think about was this reading in Acts was about people being able to understand each other, about the Holy Spirit translating in our native language so that we get it, not make up some gibberish. The problem is, or maybe the exciting thing is, the Holy Spirit is unpredictable. I don't know how it might appear to me or to another person. We never know what form or power it might take. The Holy Spirit blows where it will. 

I'm getting more and more comfortable that the Holy Spirit empowers absolutely everyone, although it still throws me sometimes when a pantry client asks to pray for me, or when a homeless neighbor digging through my recycling says something that makes absolute sense, or when a disabled senior who is about to be evicted speaks of a sense of peace from God. I'm starting to look for that flame on people's heads, that sense of power, that sense being on fire for something important, that sense of urgency and action, that sense of compassion. Just when I quit looking is when it makes it's appearance. And I'm starting to look for it on my own head, when I get complacent. Now where did that Holy Spirit go? I know she's around here somewhere! Spirit of God, rush through this stagnant air and get the fire started in our hearts again! Get us moving! Get us seeing new things! Get us understanding each other again! Get us working on understanding our neighbors on whom your Spirit has also settled and empowered.

And maybe I can even get used to the unpredictability of the Holy Spirit, that we never know what form the Holy Spirit might take, what bazaar, creative idea. She's there all the time prodding us, with questions and challenges, but we don't always listen to her until we're desperate. That was one of the points at my Continuing education on adaptive leadership last month. Every church follows a life cycle of hills and valleys, of attendance, of energy, of programs. Sometimes we're up, we're meeting our budget, we have visitors at church, we have active volunteers and new ideas. Sometimes we're down, short of money or people, low on energy and creativity. Sometimes when congregations are at a low point, it can be a time when they are more open to new ideas and experience tremendous creativity and openness to the Spirit out of desperation. The question is, are there enough resources to do anything about it at that time? Or can we listen to the Holy Spirit when we're nearer the top of the curve and then actually do something new and creative and visionary while we still have the capacity to do so? I think our council figures that we are on top of the curve, but we want to be sure not to be complacent there, to say we've got it made, lets just stay up here and do exactly what we're doing now. In order to stay healthy and active, we have to let ourselves listen to the Spirit, even in this place of health, so the Spirit can take us to even greater heights.

The Scriptures are speaking to some groups who are in a ditch, at an ending, on the low curve on the chart. For the Disciples, the fact that Jesus died on the cross was awful, but then he came back again after three days. So when he left them again and ascended into heaven that was a disaster. It was an ending they had been dreading. For Jane and Michael, they were dreading the exit of Mary Poppins. For the people in the book of Joel, the plague of locusts had eaten their crop. It was over. For some people, earthquakes and floods signify the last days, the end of the world. But those endings are not an ending to God. 

God's Spirit continues to give life and power to God's creatures. God's Spirit continues to work in surprising and creative ways to unite us together in relationship. When one thing ends, God's Spirit brings a new beginning, death and resurrection, the renewal of life, hope out of despair, healing for our wounds. The fact that the sun is covered in darkness and the crops have all been eaten in the book of Joel, is a chance for people to turn back to God and start again. The fact that Jesus has ascended is a chance for the Disciples to take those car keys he's thrown to them and take this puppy for a spin. It was a chance for them to experience the partnership and power of the Advocate, God's Spirit directly with them, helping them do the greater works than these that Jesus says they will do.

It might not always be so neat and tidy as the end of Mary Poppins. The winds of change are blowing, and Mary Poppins is making her exit. The children were distressed that she is leaving, but when she finally goes, they don't miss her. They don't even see her leave. The reason they don't notice is that they are going on an outing with both their parents. The Spirit of Mary Poppins is in the family—her creativity, her connections, her life. They finally understand each other. They have that sense of adoption, of being heirs. But we don't see what happens the next day and the next. There is a moment of happiness and unity in this family, but the winds of chaos will blow again, there will surely be other endings—the children will grow up bit by bit, the parents will endure changes and challenges of life, London will still have divisions between rich and poor, people will still be unhappy in their careers. We hope that Mary Poppins' Spirit has been enough to start them on a new track, a new way of handling their endings, a new birth, new life.

We know that Jesus' Spirit continues to blow and empower us through all the endings we face to find new beginnings, to keep us from tumbling headlong into a spirit of fear, to keep that vision of hope right in front of us. We're on this roller coster of life, sometimes in a ditch, sometimes on an upswing. Either way, God is giving us new life and is connected with us through the Spirit. So let us celebrate the Spirit among us. Let us claim that power she gives us, to something real in this world to make things better, to bring in the Kingdom of God.